A look at history: The Economist on Colonial India 100 years ago.

100 years ago, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

The Economist recently re-published an article they wrote on Austria-Hungary’s declaration of the war. Needless to say, such a source is interesting from a historical perspective. As Britain debated whether it was wise to participate in yet another war, the Economist took a fairly anti-war stance. The Economist does note that while Austria-Hungary’s anger over the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was justified, the actions of the “Austrian Government” were “too stiff, too rigid, too relentless.” In discussing why Britain should stay out of the war, the Economist argued that the “commercial and working classes” would have little interest in fighting either France or Germany. Britain has no interests at stake in this continental squabble that are worth an European war. As a neutral power, they would be able to protect the interest of the smaller powers which would look up to Britain for protection instead of backing either Russia or Germany.

I believe that with the benefit of hindsight it is clear that the Economist was incorrect. Europe dominated by one power has, is, and will always be, a threat to the sovereign independence of Great Britain (something which their politicians could stand to realize sometime). Germany would have prevailed over France and Russia without British intervention, and the result would have been an Europe dominated by the Kaiser. Just as Britain fought Louis XIV and Napoleon to prevent French domination of Europe, it stands that it had to do the same thing to Germany.

The Great War aside, there was one paragraph in the article which I found of particular interest. When the Economist discusses the assassination of the Archduke, it takes a moment to compare the administration of Austria-Hungary in Bosnia to the British in India. In talking about both projects, the Economist states:

“In 35 years, law and order, and security and religious toleration, have been substituted for rapine, disorder, official tyranny, and religious persecution. Admirable roads and railways have been built, and industry has at last begun to reap its reward for the first time since the Roman Empire fell.”

It is quite interesting to see a respected magazine like The Economist talk of the British imperialist project in India in such glowing terms. I have no doubt that Marxist-Leninists would use this as just another example of how the working and commercial classes talked of spreading civilization to India in order to enrich the capitalist system. But I believe that it does show an example of how Britain was convinced of its civilizing mission in India. I will freely admit that I know absolutely nothing of the modern British educational system, but I am curious what they teach of the British colonization of India. Do they spend three-quarters of the time talking about all the terrible things Britain did, just like our American educational system at times seems to borrow from the corrupted altar of Howard Zinn when they talk of the Revolution and the Founding Fathers?


Looking back on History: Imperial Japanese treatment of prisoners and the myth of General Nogi

One hundred years and three days ago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife was shot in the streets of Sarajevo, kicking off the First World War. As the world “celebrates” the anniversary of the First World War, analysts have used the war to suit whatever story they wish to tell.

But while the world focuses on the Western front of the war, it is forgotten that this was indeed a “World” War. Fighting between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia was not like the trench warfare in the west. And across the world, the Great Powers fought over control of colonies in Asia and Pacific. Allied member Japan seized key German colonies in the Pacific islands as well as the German-controlled Chinese of Tsingtao.

There have already been multiple articles talking about what Japan (as well as China) can learn about World War One. I am however in discussing a historical question. Japanese treatment of German prisoners during the First World One was noted to be humane. This was similar to the Japanese treatment of Russian prisoners during the Russo-Japanese War. Russian officers were permitted to go on unaccompanied strolls, lived in comfortable quarters, and were adequately fed. Some were so impressed by Japanese hospitality that they chose to stay in Japan after the war rather than deal with the chaos that was Russia during the 1905 Revolution. This is a massive contrast to the well-known horrid Japanese treatment of American prisoners during the Second World War.

So, what changed? Plenty. But I wish to discuss one of the seminal figures of early Japanese history, General Nogi Maresuke, and his role in how the Imperial military changed. General Nogi, as he is known by the Japanese, never condoned the abuse of prisoners. He was a highly honorable man. But it was this honor which would lead to his famous death, and his death which facilitated a cultural and psychological change that affected how the Japanese military treated its own men and thus its prisoners.